This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.
I am aware that this is my second post in a row with ‘crane’ in the title AND the first word of the title, but it’s hard to come up with a creative title that truly grips the reader. It’s not like a gripping few words also appear in the title. Leave me alone, alright!
So, I am back with a new update, and a lot of things have happened since my last post. The main thing was that Christmas happened! Yes, my first Christmas on a ship in Africa has been and gone, and it was great! As I mentioned in my last post (Is that plagiarism from myself or uncreativeness?) we have a large multicultural crew, which has meant opportunities to enjoy different Winter festivals and traditions from all over the world, such as the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas as I wrote about last time. The Scandinavian crew also celebrated Santa Lucia. Yes, that one saint who carries a plate of her own eyes like she is a Del Toro enthusiast. Lucia (or Lucy) means light, which Scandinavians celebrate by wearing very fetching white robes and carrying candles and singing. I can admit, I wasn’t actually there, I was instead playing Dungeons and Dragons. It looked spectacular from the pictures I have seen.
I helped to judge the various Christmas decorated doors for the ship’s annual Christmas door competition. The crew here are very creative, as we saw trains, a Mercy Ship themed version of Twas the Night Before Christmas, human-animal hybrids, Grinches, Minions, toothless reindeer advent calendars, Christmas trees made out of rope and toilet role and LEGO. After this, the winners were announced on the dock at Carols by Candlelight , an annual tradition from Australia. I didn’t actually ask any of the Aussie crew about this, I just looked it on Wikipedia. the Australian contingent of the crew treated the rest of us to an Australian edit of Jingle Bells (Still have no idea what a ‘Ute’ is.) That same night, I learnt that Australia is actually a continent, and Australasia is a region. which is a sub-region of Oceania. Just so you know, I did pass A-Level Geography, but Geography isn’t about locations anymore. Instead, it’s about beaches and volcanoes, and maybe a few other things. At least that’s how it is in the British National Curriculum.
I was also given the honour of reading Isaiah 7: 11 to 17 at the Christmas Eve service for the final Advent Candle lighting. My partner read from the book of Matthew. I like to think I was asked because I am the only Matthew on the ship. I didn’t light the candle, but I was standing by to extinguish the flame if got out of hand. I’m a trained firefighter, might I add. Then I played Crazy Uno and enjoyed a family tradition that turns out will not go away even if one half of the family is in a different continent.
And then came that very special day. I put out my stocking (Sent from home. Thank you Hannah and Zoe, I miss you very much!) whilst most of the crew put out their shoes, to find goodies from other crew in the morning. We enjoyed pastries and free coffee from Starbucks in the cafe. Soon enough, I received the on call pager. On call at Christmas? Yeah. I know terrible. It was a ship holiday though. Taking out the ship’s rubbish wasn’t how I was planning to spend Christmas, but I did get some more training in operating the stores crane after. My parents and I also connected with our home church and joined in worship over Skype. We enjoyed a Christmas lunch. One very talented crew member made a very nice cake replica of the ship. Of course, when enjoying various traditions, it is important to remind yourself of home, so the British crew were invited to watch the Queen together and play Charades in one of the British family cabins. Soon enough, another (and very special) Christmas was over.
And soon enough after that, I made a very big and expensive mistake.
After enjoying Boxing Day off, I returned to work. Crazy how fast you grow up to have two weeks off Christmas holiday one year, then next year. Working and only having a few days off for Christmas. This is still a operational ship, even when the hospital is closed for Christmas, so work still goes on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I was given the job of continuing the work that I mentioned in my last blog on the exterior of the bridge, which was grinding at rust and painting. My job as a deck hand is essentially taking care of the ship. In the morning, I had given various ‘ash’ patches (ash is the gray primer we use) a coat of white paint. These patches were easy to get to and reach. After lunch, I was going to use a ladder and harness to paint over the patches which were hard to reach, and I was joined by one of my colleagues to help me where I was working. I don’t want to go into too much detail, and this is very hard to write about, but basically one of the Bridge windscreens was hit, of course by accident, during work, and now there is a very large crack. I found out today (22nd January) from our new Danish Captain (the third in three months. We are still looking for a long-term captain) that a new window costs about 10,000 Euros. My fellow Deckies have been super supportive of me, and have been taking care of me, and really want to see me complete my training, and keep telling me that it was just an accident, and these things happen. And if I think about it, it is a lesson for tomorrow and to reflect on, not to grieve over.
“I get knocked down, but I get back up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”
Ok, so maybe Chumbawamba isn’t the most appropriate. But it’s the most motivational thing quote about growing from mistakes from the top of my head. But hey, we’ll be singing, when we’re winning. We’ll be singing…….
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God – those whom he has called according to his plan” Romans 8:28
Ok, so that’s the bad news. More good news! As for my training and work as a Deck Hand, I have started my duty as Night Patrol. What does that mean? That means that I have to work night shift. On night patrol, I have four fire and security and rounds to complete, which means taking a trip around the ship – from the Bridge working the way downwards to deck 2. Four times a night. And they take roughly an hour to complete. Walking round the ship for an hour, walking down many staircases. It is safe to say that I work all over the ship. Boy, does walking non stop for an hour do some ugly things to your feet. Somethings that I didn’t know could happen. In the morning, at sunrise, you have to raise the flags (Mercy Ships flag, flag of the country we are docked in, this case, Guinea, and the civil ensign of Malta. The Africa Mercy is registered as a Maltese vessel) so that’s pretty cool. Today, I received Fire Panel training, which means that I am authorized to watch over the fire panel during night shift when it’s needed.(receptionist needs a break, for example) It’s always needed. It has to be manned 24 hours a day. Thankfully, nothing big comes up during the night shift, which is good news, but nights to yourself go on for soo long, I had to motivate myself before my last night shift by listening to the Halo 3 soundtrack. I got a couple things signed off by the training officer in my training book. Steady progress. As for day work, It’s going good. I was a bit unsure whether the jobs of a Deck Hand would actually help the work on the hospital, but today, I was on Deck Three receiving and moving Medical Supply pallets, so I feel good. Some days can be good days at works, others are ‘Nothing days’ (my own term) which can be hard, particularly when the jobs don’t involve much physical work and it’s very hot.
I wore my Union Flag T-shirt last week. It was the same day of the vote in Parliament regarding Theresa May’s proposed Deal. Even in a different continent, you don’t escape Brexit. I just felt like wearing it, no political agenda. I was practically invisible that day. It had me wondering, because I am on a ship, is it a Union Jack?
Unfortunately, we recently said ‘Goodbye’ to Femi, the ship’s last Bosun and his wife. Whilst it is sad to see them leave, he is moving up, so it’s not all bad. Soon, they will be going to good ole’ England so that he can go to Officer School in Newcastle. He said that he would be happy to support me and answer any questions I have about my training over Messenger though. Our new Bosun, Ibrahim, who was getting ready to take over from Femi, as the Assistant Bosun is also great though, so us Deckies have been left in good hands. Monce, our last Filipino Chief Officer departed a few days ago, and his replacement, Octavian, looks to be a good replacement. (Monce, if you read this, I did want to see you off. Consider this my goodbye!) And yes, we have had three Captains in three months, our current Captain being Milo from Denmark.
For the New Year’s weekend, my parents and the other three wonderful people from our field practice took an excursion to Kindia. We saw a couple waterfalls, and we also visited the Mercy Ships Agricultural Centre. As well as the life-changing surgeries, Mercy Ships leaves a legacy in the countries that they serve in, with the Medical Capacity Building teams. At the Agricultural Centre, Eric, one of our volunteers, and a small group of Mercy Ships volunteers works with and trains representatives from a bunch of different NGOs different methods of sustainable development, which the NGOs will continue when we leave in June. They grow vegetables in a greenhouse, work to reuse water that has been used for the growth before, grow mushrooms, have a worm farm to produce compost and raise rabbits, to use their manure for fertiliser. It was truly amazing to see and learn more about.
As I mentioned we also visited a couple waterfalls in the area. The first we visited was ‘Brides Veil waterfall’. I tried to look it up, but it turns out the ‘Bride’s Veil’ is the name of a type of waterfall, that resembles a Bride’s Veil. Surprise, Surprise!
|Here’s a big damn ant. Brownie points for those who understand the reference|
The effort put by visitors making their mark on the huge tree by the waterfalls in mind-blowing. Some people haven’t just etched their name into the bark, they have chisled into it. Impressive. Never felt a waterfall before. It hurts your back with the strong, main part of the waterfall, It felt like getting shot with a machine gun. A very cold machine gun.
|One of the cascades at Brides Veil.|
|This is a spiky tree. Never seen these before.|
|The main falls and the pool.|
|A hut, some bamboo and my father|
The hotel we stayed at was very nice, with some quality food. Due to a missunderstanding, We have come up with a ‘Matthew Special’ deal. Basically, thinking you have ordered a shawarma, the staff bring out something else, but then you get you get your shawarma a little later. Delicious shawarma, delicious fish and some delicious omelette for breakfast. I also did some basic late night plumbing when I had to refill the cistern just to flush it, then part of the ‘flush’ mechanism broke off, and one of the bolts had to be put in just right to hold the button in place. Our driver became an honourary member of our group, which was helpful for us all, when we needed translations. The next day, we visited Kholissi falls. Sorry, Game of Thrones fans, it’s not what you think it is. Sadly, as the rainy season came to an end a few months ago, There wasn’t much to see, but it was cool to see apart from the two waterfalls there. The big somewhat green area between the fall areas car park and restaurant was an interesting sight to behold. I would like to say the ruins and rocks scattered across the land felt like a fantasy world landscape, the best comparison I can think of Amon Hen from Lord of the Rings. Although instead of fallen statue heads, there is an incomplete, industrial concrete structure. Hannah, maybe we can both be in New Zealand, except I am in a different continent at the same time. Astral projection, sort of? As of right now (26th January) the Little family is spread out across three continents. Enjoy your trip!
|Finding a ledge to get into the pool was difficult|
|Collecting water to be recycled.|
|Inside the Greenhouse|
|A dragon fly|
|Part of the plot of land growing crops|
During the Monday morning meeting, we have a ‘photo of the week’ the most recent was the Africa Mercy found in the port on Google Maps.
My own photo of the month is this. I was discussing productivity (golly, makes it sound like a business meeting) with a friend during a coffee break, and I forgot to mention how productive I was before the break. I was cutting rags. Amazing how you can put effort into an attempt of a professional, nice photo, which ends up looking terrible, yet not much effort can look
so much better. You want proof, I took this photo of the Super Blood Wolf Moon during the eclipse.
|Rule Brittania! Brittania rule the waves! I stopped working for a bit,
just to watch this Welsh registered fuel ship.
|A school of fish between the ship and the dock.|
Of course, New Years happened. I managed to inspire one of my fellow crew members with a Bible verse neither of us had really looked at before after another crew member asked us to collect a bunch of inspiring Bible verses to hand out to the rest of the crew to encourage us this year. We had an open mic in midships before gathering up on Deck 8 to watch the fireworks at midnight. Even fireworks let off from the islands. I was asked to blow the foghorn (Is that the verb? Blow? Sound? Operate) But they had enough people to do it, but I was on the Bridge and I was asked if I wanted to, so that is what is important. Is this the part where I reflect on the year that was 2018? No, I don’t like reflecting, read someone else’s blog for that. But what I will say, is that it was a big year for me, and marked the end of one chapter of my life, and start of another, and I pray that for everyone else who also had this in 2018, and for those who are in the middle of their current chapter, that they will have an enriching and good new chapter, even during an uncertain time for the world.
That’s all from me at the moment, thank you for reading! I also recently uploaded two new vlogs in two consecutive days on my YouTube channel, If you want to learn about animals and their species name, check them out in my Texas vlog part 2. Link to my channel in the side bar.